Linguistics at the University of Leipzig

The Institute for Linguistics was founded on December 7, 1998. It concerns itself in particular with modern formal theories of syntax, semantics, morphology and phonology, with psycholinguistics, with language typology and ethnolinguistics, as well as with diverse methodologies and the development of linguistic science. The Institute tries to bring together theoretical, experimental and typological approaches, and sees itself as such as part of Leipzig’s substantial capacity for cognitive and evolutionary sciences, already long-established within the university as well as outside of it. This network is home to a variety of collaborative projects, institutionalized especially in the form of the postgraduate program Universality and Diversity: Linguistic Structures and Processes, supported by the DFG (the German Research Foundation), and the DFG research group Linguistic Foundations of Cognitive Science. The Institute has very close ties of cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The University of Leipzig has a long tradition of linguistics. The first professorship for general linguistics was filled in 1887. At the time, the faculty decided that alongside the philological professorships there should be one which is dedicated to dealing with methodological and theoretical problems of linguistic science. The first ordinary was Karl Brugmann, one of the leaders of his field, who brilliantly fulfilled the faculty’s expectations and made Leipzig into a center of linguistics on an international scale. Similar things can be said of Brugmann’s successor, Wilhelm Streitberg. The Institute was founded in 1891 under the title Indo-Germanic Institute.

After 1918 the United Linguistic Institutes were created through incorporation of the professorships for Slavic and Baltic studies. Many of the most important linguistic scholars studied and graduated in Leipzig, such as J. Baudouin de Courtenay, F. de Saussure, N. S. Trubetzkoy, L. Bloomfield and L. Tesnière. These linguists developed the new synchronic systemic description of language from the Neogrammarians’ paradigm of histrical-comparative linguistics. Some of them played significant roles in the creation of early forms of structuralism. This paradigm did not receive much of a following in Leipzig at first, but Streitberg’s successors shared early structuralism’s interest in typological questions and in researching non-Indo-European languages.

At the end of the 1950s, the Institute was re-conceptualized, and grammar-theoretical questions returned to the center of attention. Rudolf Růžička brought Leipzig’s linguistics back into the current international theoretical linguistic discourse. Continuity from the Neogrammarians could be seen in the efforts towards precise methods and formally verifiable results. Leipzig was the only university in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) to succeed in creating a studies program in general linguistics, through the efforts of its personnel.

After 1989, the University of Leipzig could begin to renew itself. Its studies in linguistics were expanded to include psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, computational linguistics, language philosophy, typology and ethnolinguistics. In 1991, a Magister degree program in Linguistics was created. Since 2006, new students instead can take a BA degree program in Linguistics, and since 2009 an MA degree program in Linguistics is open as well.

last modified: 15.08.2017